Animal Legal Defense Fund

Do you know about the Animal Legal Defense Fund?  While rescuers are out there pulling dogs left and right from kill shellters and reporting animal abuse cases, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) provides resources to address the laws that impact animal welfare. They fight in the courtroom to protect animals from abuse. This means they file lawsuits on crictical issues, provide free legal assistance and training to prosecutors, support animal protection legislation and advise law students and professionals, all to advance the field of animal law.

ALDF also publishes information to help individuals and our companion animals. Some of the topics address issues we see discussed regularly on social media: 

  • What To Do When Your Companion Animal Has Been Injured or Killed
  • What To Do When You Find Animals in Substandard Conditions at a Pet Store
  • What To Do About Substandard Conditions at Your Local Animal Shelter
  • What To Do If Your Dog Is in Danger of Being Declared Vicious, or If Your Dog Has Bitten Someone Who Is Now Suing You
  • Establishing a Trust for Your Animals
  • How to Handle Landlord/Tenant Disputes Over Companion Animals
  • How to Help a Neighbor’s Neglected Animal
  • How to Find an Attorney to Help You With Your Animal-related Issues

We have been following ALDF's annual ranking of states and territories which assesses the relative strengths and weaknesses of each entity’s animal protection laws and ranks them accordingly. For the first time in thirteen years, Illinois is no longer ranked as having the strongest animal protection laws in the country, having been surpassed by Maine. Following Maine, the top five are (2) Illinois, (3) Oregon, (4) Colorado, and (5) Rhode Island. This year Mississippi and Iowa rose out of the bottom two slots for improving their cruelty codes. New Mexico now has the country’s weakest animal protection laws on the books, followed closely by Wyoming (49), Idaho (48), Mississippi (47), and Alabama (46).

Of particular interest to those of us at NGPR, is the slow rise in Kentucky's ranking. Back in October 2018,  Joye Estes, a former NGPR board member and Kentucky Coordinator, discussed the ALDF's 2017 rankings when Kentucky was number 54 in animal welfare laws for the 11th year in a row, ranking below the other 49 states, District of Columbia and four U.S. possessions. Here is Joye's assessment of the positive changes that have been made since then.

Kentucky moved from 54th (behind 49 states and 3 US territories) to 47th by passing the Sex Crimes Against Animals bill in 2019. It is an excellent and comprehensive law. I testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about that bill because bestiality is closely linked to child pornography and sex crimes against children and adults. In fact, the very first arrest of Sex Crime against Animals was made 3 months after the bill was enacted as a result of a child pornography investigation by the Kentucky State Police in Christian County, KY.

In the 2020 legislative session, a vet reporting bill was enacted. It is restrictive in that it only applies civil immunity for vets reporting on suspected animal abuse with their clients. If a vet is driving past a random farm and sees emaciated horses (all too common in KY), they do not have immunity for reporting that case. Further, they are not mandated to report, which leaves it wide open for vets who are more interested in their business than in animal welfare to ignore the obvious signs of abuse. This article from the ALDF is pretty comprehensive about the passing of the bill and has a link to the bill. The passage brought KY up to 44th.

The past two years, we have been trying to get a Cost of Care bill passed. This bill will put the financial burden for the care of the animal(s) on the defendant instead of on the county or rescue. It requires:
  • The seizing agency must leave a notice of seizure and a form declaring ownership of the animal for the owner to return to the seizing agency within 10 days or the animal will be considered abandoned.
  • Allows the seizing agency to petition the court for reasonable reimbursement of costs for care of the animal(s).
  • Provides a hearing where the seizing agency has to show a preponderance of evidence that there was abuse and thus it was a lawful seizure and if found, the judge can set a reasonable reimbursement cost and require payment within 10 days and each subsequent payment no later than every 30 days. 
  • If the owner can't/won't or doesn't make payments, the animal(s) is forfeit.  
  • It also allows the court to order no possession or even to live with someone else's animals for up to 5 years.
We have been trying to get a clause inserted in this bill so it also applies to any animals born while in the custody of the seizing agency.
Right now, we have counties in KY that turn a blind eye to hoarding cases because they simply do not have the resources to care for large scale animal seizures. Further, rescues in KY do not have the resources to take and hold dogs for the length of the court case anymore than county shelters do. And when hoarding cases are ignored, child neglect and endangerment that may be occurring inside the home is going undiscovered. In KY, Endangering the Welfare of a Minor is the most common concurrent crime with animal abuse. This should be passed so no victim is left behind, regardless of the species. Hopefully, if the Cost of Care bill is passed, KY can move up to Middle Tier in the ALDF rankings.
Even with the improvements in Kentucky's ALDL rankings, those of us at NGPR find it hard to see change in the day-to-day rescue activity. Many shelters are full and cannot hold dogs so they need to turn dogs over immediately to rescue to avoid euthanasia. When we are called about "a" dog at a shelter we frequently find there is not one Pyr but two or three or more we haven't been told about who need rescue. We were notified recently about a female who gave birth in the shelter. She was brought in with three other Pyrs and was the mother of two. Two of the siblings were euthanized while the mother and one son were spared and held in the shelter for one month simply because they were so feral they could not be touched. 
We are seeing states in the middle tier of ALDF listings like Tennessee (ranked # 24) have as many or more Pyrs in desperate need as do lower-ranked states such as Alabama (#46) or Mississippi (#48). We are told that some shelters are no longer picking up strays because they have no place to put them. Dogs are left to wander and are being hit by cars. We are glad legal improvements are being made that benefit the welfare of animals but more restrictions need to be placed on breeding to stop the large number of puppies and dogs overwhelming shelters and rescues.